This is the blog of children's book author and third grade teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Interview with poet and middle grade author Laura Shovan.

It’s the last week of poetry month. Today I’m very excited to interview poet and middle grade author Laura Shovan.

Laura Shovan’s debut middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry, as well a Nerdy Book Club award. She is a long time poet-in-the-schools and the author and editor of three books of poetry for adults. Laura co-hosts Wilde Readings, a literary reading series in Howard County, Maryland, where she lives with her family.

Welcome, Laura! On your twitter profile you list yourself first as a poet. When did you start writing poetry?

The first poem I remember writing was in second or third grade. (I remember the poem only because it was published in my school’s PTA newsletter!) It compared the sounds of nature on a summer night to an orchestra. I’ve always written both poetry and prose, but poetry is what I’m most passionate about.

Tell us about your journey. How did you go from being a poet to a middle grade author?

I’d been publishing poetry in literary journals for several years. When my children were small, I started making up songs for them – little ditties to keep them entertained in the grocery store. That was the beginning of my interest in writing for children. I took my first kidlit class and attended my first conference in 2003, but I didn’t sign with my agent until 2014. It was a long process.

In those eleven years, I sold a few pieces to Highlights, wrote a middle grade prose novel that will never see the light of day, completed at least three picture book manuscripts, and drafted about 75% of two YA novels. I think The Last Fifth Grade was “the one” because it’s rooted in my work with children as a visiting poet-in-the-schools.

The last big push with the book was working on it with a mentor, YA verse novelist Joy McCullough-Carranza, during PitchWars.

Your book, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is a novel in verse told from multiple points of view. How did you keep track of all the different voices?

I used every method I could think of to develop and keep track of the characters. There were spreadsheets, character resumes, and classroom seating charts. In order to create distinct voices, I revised one character at a time instead of working chronologically through the story. My famously gigantic revision binder has one section for each of the students’ in Ms. Hill’s class. I like to bring it with me on school visits, so students can see how much work and how many drafts go into a book.

Your next novel is written in prose. Why the switch? Could you see yourself going back to poetry at some point?

That’s right. My next book is a prose novel in two voices. TAKE DOWN is about two middle school wrestlers—Mikayla, the first girl to join an all-boy team, and her training partner Lev, who’s convinced that having a female partner will ruin his dream of competing at the state championship. The book began as notes and poems I jotted down years ago, when my son was wrestling.

When I sat down to write the novel, there was an expansiveness to Lev’s voice. He’s literally wrestling with what it means to be an athlete, and he can be pretty wordy about it. Lev does have a few poems in the book.

Mikayla showed up later in the writing process. Like Lev, her character had a prose voice from the beginning.

I’d love to write another novel in verse at some point. Meanwhile, I’ve contributed work to two children’s poetry anthologies publishing in the next year or two. One is from J. Patrick Lewis and the other is by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?

Before THE LAST FIFTH GRADE, I’d published three books of poetry with small, independent presses. My biggest surprise was how different the experience of publishing with a big house has been. In many ways, it was like starting from scratch. I had a lot to learn about how a large publisher operates and works with authors.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?

The most important things to cultivate are perseverance and a literary community. Both will sustain you through the querying process, and – later on – through challenging revisions, as well as the successes and disappointments that are part of an author’s life. I’ve had a huge amount of support from the literary scene here in the Baltimore area, the Sweet 16s debut author group, and the PitchWars community. When I need a pep talk, they’re there for me.

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?

Now that I’ve completed two books and am thinking about my third novel, I can see that there’s a focus on communities in my writing. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is about how classes like Ms. Hill’s can form a strong sense of community. In TAKE DOWN, Lev and Mikayla are figuring out what it means to be part of the wrestling community and members of a team.

Maybe this is because, growing up, my own family was bi-cultural. As a child from two families separated by an ocean, finding a community where I fit in was a difficult for me. Many of my characters are asking the question: “Where do I belong”?

Thank you so much for joining me on my blog! Readers, make sure to get your copy of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Y0u can find out more about Laura on her author site, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a middle grade author. The Sweet Spot and The Perfect Trip are available now from Spellbound River Press. She'd love to hear from you about Laura Shovan, The Last Fifth Grade, and novels in verse in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

She Wrote a Book Interview

Check out my interview on the She Wrote a Book Podcast. Thank you to Lena Anani for having me as a guest. You can check out the show notes and more She Wrote a Book Podcasts here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#IMWAYR April 24, 2017 & Poetry Month Post 4

Each week I try to join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers to share all of the reading I've done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. I am also an author and last week I was honored to see the first novel in my two book series, The Sweet Spot, reviewed by Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This week she reviewed the The Perfect Trip. Make sure to head over there to see the reviews and to connect with all the other amazing book bloggers who post each week. 

April is Poetry Month so I have started each post in April with a favorite poetry book and a novel in verse. Last week I interviewed Ted Scheu, one of my favorite poets for children. Make sure to stop back on Thursday when I share my interview with Laura Shovan, poet and author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary School. It's #IMWAYR.


This wonderful new book of poetry from Kwame Alexander celebrates poets.

Novel in Verse (Young Adult)

This young adult novel in verse takes on the delicate subject of living through the consequences of big decisions.

Middle Grade

In this dystopian future water is scarce, people are suffering and many children are living abandoned in cities. When Devin learns of a place that children can go to live better lives, he jumps on the chance to get there. But things at the home are not what they seem and Devin realizes that he may have been safer on his own. An enjoyable, though slightly disturbing read. I would consider it more of a young YA than a middle grade.


I am a third grade teacher and a middle grade author. The Sweet Spot and The Perfect Trip are available now from Spellbound River Press. If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads. Click on the covers to buy them locally on Indie Bound. Please leave a comment below to let me know what you think about these books. It's Monday, what have you been reading?